No. 8 Texas has played like two completely different baseball teams against Rice this season.
Which one will show up tonight when the rivals meet at 6 p.m. at UFCU Disch-Falk Field?
The No. 25 Owls got a look at the first team at Minute Maid Park in Houston at the Houston College Classic, where the Longhorns won a 2-1 pitching duel. Taylor Jungmann allowed only one run on four hits and eight strikeouts in 7.2 innings pitched before Chance Ruffin finished the game, thanks to a spectacular catch from Connor Rowe halfway up Tal’s hill in center field.
Offensively, the Longhorns’ bats didn’t wake up until the sixth inning, when Cameron Rupp drove in Tant Shepherd with an RBI single up the middle. Texas (15-5, 2-1) eventually gained one more run on a double from sophomore shortstop Brandon Loy in the eighth that would win the game.
Their second meeting wasn’t even close to a solid pitching battle as the Horns allowed double-digit runs for the first time this season, losing 10-6 at Reckling Park in Houston. This time, it was their pitching staff that couldn’t get the job done on the mound — starter Austin Dicharry lasted only 2.2 innings, allowing four runs on three hits and five walks.
Still, the Horns were able to score six runs. For a team that has struggled offensively during the first part of the season and relied heavily on pitching and defense, Texas’ bats are finally starting to come around.
“The game was dominated by us putting the ball in play and making them play catch,” coach Augie Garrido said after Sunday’s 13-3 win over Nebraska. “You don’t make errors on a strikeout. They are easy outs.”
“It was just a matter of time before [balls] started falling,” Loy said. “We struggled at the beginning, but we have the right plan at the plate.”
Before Sunday’s dominating 13-run offensive performance against Nebraska, the position players met to discuss their performance at the plate and to take pressure off each other and the team.
“We aren’t here to put pressure on ourselves. It’s about having fun,” Loy said. “We have to get the pressure off ourselves and just play like we are 12 years old.”
Garrido also made some changes before Sunday’s offensive explosion and dominating win. After the Horns struck out nine times Saturday, Garrido messed around with the lineup to take pressure off of some players who have struggled
recently. He moved Shepherd and Jordan Etier from the top two spots to the bottom spots and moved Jonathan Walsh to sixth to protect the recently hot Kevin Lusson.
“Guys start to feel pressure and responsibility, so I wanted to change it up and take the ‘here we go again’ mentality out of it,” Garrido said. “I don’t care if it’s the top two or bottom two. I like to have that type of player in those positions.”
The switch worked for the Horns, who racked up 13 hits while striking out only three times, something they want to see more of against Rice and throughout the rest of the season.
Along with putting the ball in play, Texas players want to make it a point to stay in games and perform at the plate every day the way they have in the past.
“We need to come out and do this every day and stop waiting till we need to do it or have to do it,” Loy said. “As long as we stay motivated, competitive and keep things going all the time, we have the talent and skill. It’s just a matter of getting the job done.”